Where do wedding traditions in the UK come from?
How can you make sure you do not start your future married life with bad luck? This article takes a light hearted look at wedding customs and traditions both old and new. You should not take these traditions too seriously but they are definitely important to a lot of people.
"Something old, something new, something borrowed something blue..."
The most famous wedding tradition is of course the original guidance for things a bride can do to improve her luck and particularly what she should wear. The full version is:
“something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue and a silver sixpence in her shoe”
This is a said to date back to Victorian times and is something that almost every bride getting married in Britain adheres to even today.
What does it mean?
Something Old, is said to represent the link to the past, the bride’s family and her old friend. The desire is that these positive links with the past should be maintained. A way to achieve this is perhaps to wear a piece of family jewelry or a family wedding dress. In tradition the item came from a happily married women and was a garter to wear.
Something new, represents both the fortune in the marriage and success in the new life. This could be a wedding dress.
Something borrowed, is to remind the bride that she has help from her friends and family if she needs it. It should be something of real value to the bride’s family and could be am item of jewelry.
Something Blue, is a signal of the Brides fidelity, faithfulness and loyalty. It is said to date back to ancient Israel, were a bride would wear a blue ribbon in her hair – The colour blue was, in these time, associated with fidelity and purity – a bit like white today. Something blue is often the Bride’s Garter or a piece of Lingerie.
A six pence in her shoe
The Six pence in her shoe is the least known part of the tradition and should bring the couple wealth and happiness. You can easily put a penny in your shoe as a substitution.
A very traditional wedding:
Traditions for the proposal
Tradition has always been that the man should ask the potential Bride, and her protector, normally her Father. Asking the prospective father in law is not so common today but in my opinion can do no harm.
Custom has it that on a leap year Feb 29th and 1338 days away when I wrote this article a women could ask a man to marry her without losing her femininity. A surprisingly large number of proposals still take place on leap year days – proof I guess of superstition relating to marriage. Most women today, realising where the power lies would prehaps adopt a more pragmatic approach – after all if you can convince him it is in his interest to ask you then you will probably get your way a fair amount in life. I would not suggest leaving bits of paper around with you ‘practice wedded signature’ on it, not just because it is bad luck but it is also not cool.
Don't get married in May
Choosing a month to get married in:
Tradition has it that May is a really bad month to get married in, here is the old rhyme:
“Married when the year is new, he'll be loving, kind and true.
When February birds do mate, You wed nor dread your fate.
If you wed when March winds blow, joy and sorrow both you'll know.
Marry in April when you can, Joy for Maiden and for Man.
Marry in the month of May, and you'll surely rue the day.
Marry when June roses grow, over land and sea you'll go.
Those who in July do wed, must labour for their daily bred.
Whoever wed in August be, many a change is sure to see
Marry in September's shrine, your living will be rich and fine.
If in October you do marry, love will come but riches tarry.
If you wed in bleak November, only joys will come, remember.
When December snows fall fast, marry and true love will last.’
Marry in May and you'll live to rue the day
Marry in Lent, live to repent
This is because historically the month of May was not a suitable time for a wedding. In Pagan times outdoor orgies occurred at this time in the festival of Beltane, during Roman times a festival to the godess of Chastity and the Feast of the Dead occurred clearly not a good time to get married. Today Churches report a rush at the end of April to avoid the month of May.
Most weddings today happen during summer months, this occurred historically as well, not just because it is a more pleasant time but also because the sun is associated with Fertility and thus a good omen.
The wedding Dress
Tradition has it that it is unlucky for a bride to make her own wedding dress or to wear the entire outfit before her wedding day. She should also not finish it until you are just about to leave for the ceremony, this has a practical use, but it is also a very emotional time for both mother and daughter when she puts the last stitch in the dress before giving the bride to her father to take away.
The best known tradition is perhaps that it is unlucky for the groom to see the bride in her wedding dress before. Some even say he should not glance at her sa she approaches him. I think this is not practical, or even polite.
The wedding dress colour.
The wealthy in the 1700’s started to wear white when getting married to emphasize the Brides femininity and virginity. Queen Victoria chose to wear white which gave it a big boost
The wedding veil
The veil is a long tradition and all about protecting the bride from evil spirits – so they don’t recognise her. The negative but quite funny alternative is that when arranged marriages were more common in the west it would ensure that a future husband could not properly see his intended until after they were married and would thus not get second thoughts.
Pearls seem to be the right colour to go with a wedding dress but historically they symbolised tears and thus brought bad luck. The colour pearl is said to ensure ‘you live a whirl.’
The Bridesmaids and Ushers
The Bridesmaids should wear something similar to the Bride and also look similar, this is because they can act as a body double for the malevolent spirits that might be looking to target the Bride. If they can not find her they will be drawn off and thus the Bride will escape their unwanted attentions. The same is off course true for the Grooms and his party
Superstitious about Flowers
The choice of flowers used to have a lot to do with their meaning as well as their look. Red and White flowers together are sometimes avoided because of their association with blood and wounds.
Roses have always symbolised love and thus have been ever popular at weddings.
Orange Blossom is said to represent chastity and is still very popular at weddings.
Snowdrops are said to symbolise hope and was therefore also very popular.
The wearing off a button hole for the Groom and his party comes from the time when a Knight would adopt colours of his beloved.
The best known custom concerning flowers is off course the tossing of the Bride’s Bouquet to the unmarried female guest. The girl that catches it will be the next to marry. This is a recent tradition from the United States and can not be traced back in English History. It was however, normal for her to remove a shoe and do the same thing. A similar thing sometimes happens to the male guest with the Bride’s Garter. The new Husband removes it and flings it over his shoulders to the assembled bachelors, whomsoever catches it will also enjoy the next marriage.
"Bride on the left groom on the right please"
The Groom needed to stand on the right of the Bride so that his sword arm was free in case he needed to defend her. Naturally the congregation is seated behind their relation or friends. This holds true today with the Bride on the left and the groom on the right.
What is Confetti for?
Once the ceremony is complete the newly married couple is bombarded by confetti. This means sweets in Italian and should bring luck and fertility. This used to happen with rice and still does in Germany. Some reports suggest that the Bridal Couple were also the target of shoes on conclusion of the service.
Cutting of the wedding Cake
The modern wedding cake has a really good pedigree dating back to Roman times on these shores. It also occurs in a wide variety of diverse cultures ranging from Southern Pacific to Native American.
The Cake used to have ring inside which would bring the fortunate finder a year of good luck.
The cutting of the cake is now a part of almost all wedding ceremonies and is done by both Bride and Groom together to symbolise their future together. In military weddings the cake is often cut with a sword or cavalry saber.
In some countries such as Germany it is held that, who ever has their hand on top during the cake cutting will be the dominant party in the future relationship. This is replicated in UK wedding traditions with the practice of the first purchase after marriage being a harbinger of who will dominate the marriage. Some brides will buy a simple item from her Bridesmaids straight after the ceremony just in case.
Crossing the threshold
The bride should be carried over the threshold of her new home, or more specifically should not touch the threshold, to protect her from evil spirits. It could also be said to represent the Anglo-Saxon tradition of carrying away brides from neighboring tribes or the reluctance of a bride to surrender her virginity.
The tradition could also be to do with the fact it is considered really unlucky for a bride to trip when entering her new house. To make sure she does not trip, she should be carried and thus avoid the possibility.
The Honey Moon
The tradition of the Honeymoon in the Great Brittan is said to arise from the fact that newly married couples would run away together for a month. This period equates to a full moon cycle – or more practically a full menstrual cycle – after which time the parents must accept the marriage as it would be likely that the Wife would be pregnant. The honey part comes from the Honey Wine the couple would drink –
Honey (drink) + moon (duration) = Honeymoon.
If you are reading this because you are about to get married I wish you the very best of luck and hope that no evil spirits or bad omens ruin your day! You can find a useful checklist for UK weddings amoungst my other articles, I hope that it helps you.
If you want some more information about some of the specifics of the traditions and don't want to get to caught up in deep history the folllowing might be of use.
- The general Wikipedia Article
- For those interested in how things may have changed this daily mail article may be of interest